The Grapes of Wrath
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Ford
Screenplay byNunnally Johnson
Based onThe Grapes of Wrath
by John Steinbeck
Produced by
CinematographyGregg Toland
Edited byRobert L. Simpson
Music byAlfred Newman
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • January 24, 1940 (1940-01-24) (United States)
Running time
129 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1,591,000 (rentals)[2]

The Grapes of Wrath is a 1940 American drama film directed by John Ford. It was based on John Steinbeck's 1939 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name. The screenplay was written by Nunnally Johnson and the executive producer was Darryl F. Zanuck.[3]

The film tells the story of the Joads, an Oklahoma family of sharecroppers, who, after losing their farm to increased mechanization during the Great Depression in the 1930s, become migrant workers, and end up in California. The motion picture details their arduous journey across the United States as they travel to California in search of work and opportunities for the family members, and features cinematography by Gregg Toland.

The film is widely considered to be one of the greatest films of all time. In 1989, it was one of the first 25 films selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[4][5]


After being released from prison, Tom Joad hitchhikes his way to his share-cropper parents' farm in Oklahoma. He comes upon Jim Casy, an itinerant man sitting under a tree by the roadside. Tom remembers Casy as the preacher who baptized him, but Casy has "lost the spirit" and his faith. Casy goes with Tom to the Joad property. It is deserted but they find neighbor Muley Graves, who is hiding out there. In a flashback, he describes how the local farmers were forced from their farms by the land deedholders, who knocked down their houses with tractors. Tom soon reunites with the family at his uncle's house. The Joads are migrating with other evicted families to the promised land of California. They pack everything into a dilapidated car adapted to serve as a truck to make the long journey. Casy decides to accompany them.

The trip along Highway 66 is arduous, and it soon takes a toll on the Joad family. The elderly Grandpa dies along the way. Tom writes the circumstances surrounding the death on a page from the family Bible and places it on the body before they bury it, so his death will not be mistaken as a homicide if discovered. They park in a camp and meet a migrant man returning from California. He scoffs at Pa's optimism about opportunities in California and speaks bitterly about his experiences in the West. Grandma dies when they reach California. Eldest son, Noah, leaves the family, while son-in-law, Connie, deserts his pregnant wife, Rose-of-Sharon.

The family arrives at the first transient migrant campground for workers. The camp is crowded with other starving, jobless, and desperate travelers. As their truck slowly makes its way through a row of shanty houses and around the camp's hungry-faced inhabitants, Tom notes it, "Sure don't look none too prosperous."

After seeing trouble between the sheriff and an agitator, the Joads hurriedly leave the camp. The family goes to another migrant camp, the Keene Ranch. After working in the fields, they discover the high food prices in the company store, the only one in the area. When a group of migrant workers is striking, Tom wants to learn more about it. He attends a secret meeting in the dark woods. When the gathering is discovered, Casy is killed by a camp guard. Tom inadvertently kills the guard while defending himself.

Tom suffers a serious cheek wound, making him easily recognizable. That evening, the family hides Tom when guards arrive searching for who killed the guard. Tom avoids being spotted, and the family leaves the Keene Ranch without further incident. After driving awhile, the truck breaks down at the crest of a hill. They have little gas and decide to coast down the hill to where there are some lights. They arrive at the Farmworkers' Weedpatch Camp ("Wheat Patch"), a clean facility run by the Department of Agriculture, complete with indoor toilets and showers, which the Joad children have never seen before.

Later, at one of the weekly Saturday night dances held at the Wheat Patch, a group of strangers arrive, saying they were invited by Buck Jackson. The camp caretaker is suspicious, and asks Jackson about the strangers. Jackson says he worked with one of them, and it appears they have come to instigate a riot as a pretext for local law enforcement to storm the camp and arrest the leaders. The camp committee men have anticipated this, and subdue the strangers when they attempt to start a fight, leaving the law no choice but to abort their plan.

Tom is moved to work for change by what he has witnessed in the various camps. When police officers arrive looking for the murderer of the guard Tom killed, he decides to leave, telling his mother that he plans to carry on Casy's mission by fighting for workers' rights. As the family moves on again, they discuss the fear and difficulties they have had.


Henry Fonda as Tom Joad


According to The New York Times, The Grapes of Wrath was America's best-selling book of 1939 and 430,000 copies had been printed by February 1940.[6] In that month, it won the National Book Award, favorite fiction book of 1939, voted by members of the American Booksellers Association.[6] Soon, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.[7]

In 1962, the Nobel Prize committee said The Grapes of Wrath was "great work" and one of the committee's main reasons for granting Steinbeck the Nobel Prize for Literature.[8] Time magazine included the novel in its "100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005" list.[9] In 2009, The Daily Telegraph also included the novel in its list of "100 novels everyone should read".[10] In 1998, the Modern Library ranked The Grapes of Wrath tenth on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.

Differences from the novel

The first part of the film follows the book fairly closely. However, the second half and the ending in particular are significantly different from the book. While the book ends with the downfall and break-up of the Joad family, the film switches the order of sequences so that the family ends up in a "good" camp provided by the government, and things turn out relatively well for them.[11]

In the novel, Rose-of-Sharon ("Rosasharn") Rivers (played in the film by Dorris Bowdon) gives birth to a stillborn baby. Later, she offers her milk-filled breasts to a starving man, dying in a barn. These scenes were not included in the film.

While the film is somewhat stark, it has a more optimistic and hopeful view than the novel, especially when the Joads land at the Department of Agriculture camp – the clean camp.[citation needed] Also, the producers decided to tone down Steinbeck's political references, such as eliminating a monologue using a land owner's description of "reds" as anybody "that wants thirty cents an hour when we're payin' twenty-five," to show that under the prevalent conditions that definition applies to every migrant worker looking for better wages.

The film emphasizes Ma Joad's pragmatic, forward-looking way of dealing with their situation despite Tom's departure, as it concludes with her spiritual "We're the people" speech.[citation needed][12]

Ivy and Sairy Wilson, who attend to Grandpa's death and travel with the Joads until they reach California, are left out of the movie entirely. Noah's departure from the family is passed over in the movie. Instead, he simply disappears without explanation. In the book, Floyd tells Tom about how the workers were being exploited, but in the movie he does not appear until after the deputy arrives in Hooverville. Sandry, the religious fanatic who scares Rose-of-Sharon, is left out of the movie.

Vivian Sobchack argued that the film uses visual imagery to focus on the Joads as a family unit, whereas the novel focuses on their journey as a part of the "family of man". She points out that their farm is never shown in detail, and that the family members are never shown working in agriculture; not a single peach is shown in the entire film. This subtly serves to focus the film on the specific family, as opposed to the novel's focus on man and land together.[13]

In the film, most of the Joad family members are either reduced to background characters – in the case of Al, Noah, and Uncle John – or to being the focus of only one or two relatively minor scenes – like Rose-of-Sharon and Connie. Instead, the film is largely concerned with Tom, Ma, and (to a lesser extent) Jim Casy. Thus, despite the film's focus on the Joads as a specific family rather than a part of the "family of man", the movie explores very little of the members of the family itself.



Executive producer Darryl F. Zanuck was nervous about the left-wing political views of the novel, especially the ending. Due to the red-baiting common to the era, Darryl Zanuck sent private investigators to Oklahoma to help him legitimize the film.

When Zanuck's investigators found that the "Okies'" predicament was indeed terrible, Zanuck was confident he could defend political attacks that the film was somehow pro-Communist.[14] Critic Roger Ebert believed that World War II also helped sell the film's message, as Communism received a brief respite from American demonizing during that period.[15]

Production on the film began on October 4, 1939, and was completed on November 16, 1939. Some of the filming locations include: McAlester and Sayre, both in Oklahoma; Gallup, Laguna Pueblo, and Santa Rosa, all in New Mexico; Thousand Oaks,[16] Lamont, Needles, and the San Fernando Valley, all in California; Topock and the Petrified Forest National Park, both in Arizona.[17]

The film score by Alfred Newman is based on the song "Red River Valley". Additionally, the song "Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad" is sung in a nighttime scene at a roadside New Mexico camp.

The film premiered in New York City on January 24, 1940, and Los Angeles on January 27, 1940. The wide release date in the United States was March 15, 1940.[citation needed]

Originally allowed to be shown in the Soviet Union in 1948 because of its depiction of the plight of people under capitalism, it was subsequently withdrawn because audiences were noticing that, as shown in the film, even the poorest Americans could afford a car.[18]


Stone inscription for The Grapes of Wrath at Ford's statue in Portland, Maine.

Critical response

Frank Nugent of The New York Times wrote:

"In the vast library where the celluloid literature of the screen is stored there is one small, uncrowded shelf devoted to the cinema's masterworks, to those films which by dignity of theme and excellence of treatment seem to be of enduring artistry, seem destined to be recalled not merely at the end of their particular year but whenever great motion pictures are mentioned. To that shelf of screen classics Twentieth Century-Fox yesterday added its version of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, adapted by Nunnally Johnson, directed by John Ford and performed at the Rivoli by a cast of such uniform excellence and suitability that we should be doing its other members an injustice by saying it was "headed" by Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, John Carradine and Russell Simpson."[19]

When critic Bosley Crowther retired in 1967, he named The Grapes of Wrath one of the best fifty films ever made.[20]

In a film review written for Time magazine by its editor Whittaker Chambers, he separated his views of Steinbeck's novel from Ford's film, which he liked.

Chambers wrote:

"But people who go to pictures for the sake of seeing pictures will see a great one. For The Grapes of Wrath is possibly the best picture ever made from a so-so book...Camera craft purged the picture of the editorial rash that blotched the Steinbeck book. Cleared of excrescences, the residue is a great human story which made thousands of people, who damned the novel's phony conclusions, read it. It is the saga of an authentic U.S. farming family who lose their land. They wander, they suffer, but they endure. They are never quite defeated, and their survival is itself a triumph."[21]

A review in Variety reported, "Here is outstanding entertainment, projected against a heart-rending sector of the American scene," concluding, "It possesses an adult viewpoint and its success may lead other producers to explore the rich field of contemporary life which films long have neglected and ignored."[22] John Mosher wrote in The New Yorker, "With a majesty never before so constantly sustained on any screen, the film never for an instant falters. Its beauty is of the sort found in the art of Burchfield, Benton and Curry, as the landscape and people involved belong to the world of these painters."[23]

The Film Daily year-end poll of 546 critics nationwide ranked The Grapes of Wrath as the second-best film of 1940, behind only Hitchcock's Rebecca.[24]

Awards and nominations

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[25] Outstanding Production Darryl F. Zanuck and Nunnally Johnson (for 20th Century Fox) Nominated
Best Director John Ford Won
Best Actor Henry Fonda Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Jane Darwell Won
Best Screenplay Nunnally Johnson Nominated
Best Film Editing Robert L. Simpson Nominated
Best Sound Recording Edmund H. Hansen Nominated
Blue Ribbon Awards Best Foreign Language Film John Ford Won
National Board of Review Awards[26] Best Film Won
Top Ten Films Won
Best Acting Jane Darwell Won
Best Acting Henry Fonda Won
National Film Preservation Board National Film Registry Inducted
New York Film Critics Circle Awards[27] Best Film Won
Best Director John Ford (also for The Long Voyage Home) Won
Online Film & Television Association Awards[28] Hall of Fame – Motion Picture Won

American Film Institute recognition

Home media

The film's trailer

The film was released on VHS in 1988 by Key Video. It was later released in video format on March 3, 1998, by 20th Century Fox on its Studio Classic series.

A DVD was released on April 6, 2004, by 20th Century Fox Entertainment. The DVD contains a special commentary track by scholars Joseph McBride and Susan Shillinglaw. It also includes various supplements: an A&E Network biography of Daryl F. Zanuck, outtakes, a gallery, Franklin D. Roosevelt lauds motion pictures at Academy featurette, Movietone news: three drought reports from 1934, etc.

The film was released on Blu-ray on April 3, 2012, and features all supplemental material from the DVD release.

See also


  1. ^ Solomon, Aubrey (1989). Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, p. 240, ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1.
  2. ^ "All-time Film Rental Champs". Variety. October 15, 1990.
  3. ^ The Grapes of Wrath at IMDb Edit this at Wikidata.
  4. ^ "ENTERTAINMENT: Film Registry Picks First 25 Movies". Los Angeles Times. Washington, D.C. September 19, 1989. Retrieved April 22, 2020.
  5. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2020-10-08.
  6. ^ a b "1939 Book Awards Given by Critics: Elgin Groseclose's 'Ararat' is Picked as Work Which Failed to Get Due Recognition". The New York Times. February 14, 1940. p. 25.
  7. ^ "Novel" (Winners 1917–1947). The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved January 28, 2012.
  8. ^ Osterling, Anders. "Nobel Prize in Literature 1962 – Presentation Speech". Retrieved February 18, 2007.
  9. ^ "All Time 100 Novels". Time. October 16, 2005. Archived from the original on October 21, 2005. Retrieved May 25, 2010.
  10. ^ "100 novels everyone should read". The Daily Telegraph. London. January 16, 2009. Archived from the original on 2022-01-12. Retrieved June 5, 2012.
  11. ^ "The Grapes of Wrath". Amazon Video. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
  12. ^ Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath, 1939. Penguin Classics; Reissue edition October 1, 1992.
  13. ^ Sobchack, Vivian C. (1979). "The Grapes of Wrath (1940): Thematic Emphasis Through Visual Style". American Quarterly. 31 (5). The Johns Hopkins University Press: 596–615. doi:10.2307/2712428. JSTOR 2712428.
  14. ^ Levy, Emanuel. "Film Review". Archived from the original on 11 December 2008.
  15. ^ Ebert, Roger. Chicago Sun-Times, film review, March 21, 2002. Last accessed: January 14, 2007.
  16. ^ Schad, Jerry (October 15, 2009). Los Angeles County: A Comprehensive Hiking Guide. Wilderness Press. pp. 35–36. ISBN 978-0899976396.
  17. ^ Filming locations. The Grapes of Wrath at IMDb Edit this at Wikidata.
  18. ^ Whitfield, Stephen J. (2009). "Projecting Politics: The Grapes of Wrath". Revue LISA/LISA e-journal. VII (1): 121–147.
  19. ^ Nugent, Frank S. The Grapes of Wrath (1940). The New York Times January 25, 1940. Last accessed: November 26, 2015.
  20. ^ Crowther, Bosley. "The 50 Best Films of All Time". Archived from the original on November 2, 2007. Retrieved 2007-01-09.. The New York Times, archived at Northern Essex Community College.
  21. ^ Chambers, Whittaker (February 12, 1940). "Cinema: The New Pictures". Time. Retrieved January 23, 2010.
  22. ^ Flinn, John C. Sr. (January 31, 1940). "Grapes of Wrath". Variety. p. 14. Retrieved August 1, 2019.
  23. ^ Mosher, John (February 3, 1940). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. p. 61. Retrieved August 1, 2019.
  24. ^ "'Rebecca' Wins Critics' Poll". Film Daily. New York: Wid's Films and Film Folk, Inc.: 1 January 14, 1941.
  25. ^ "The 13th Academy Awards (1941) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved August 13, 2011.
  26. ^ "1940 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  27. ^ "1940 New York Film Critics Circle Awards". Mubi. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  28. ^ "Film Hall of Fame Inductees: Productions". Online Film & Television Association. Retrieved August 15, 2021.